Silverstone opens Arena circuit

The new Silverstone ‘Arena’ circuit was officially opened by HRH the Duke of York at a grand unveiling which featured Formula One stars past and present.

This year’s British Grand Prix will now take place on the £5 million configuration, which was given the green light by FIA race director Charlie Whiting earlier in the week.

The new course, which see an increase in its length to 3.666 miles, features a variety of new corners in a bid to make the circuit more spectator friendly as well as pose a new challenge to drivers.

Abbey has been altered from its chicane format to a quick right hander, which blends into a left kink before arriving at the new ‘Arena’ complex. Thereafter drivers will join the ‘National’ circuit and reemerge onto the old Grand Prix layout at Brooklands.

For 2010 the start/finish straight will remain at the north side of the circuit, however plans are already well underway to relocate the pits to the newly-profiled Club corner from 2011 onwards.

For Damon Hill, 1996 Formula One World Champion and chairman of the British Racing Drivers’ Club, safeguarding the Grand Prix has been an uphill battle, which was not helped by Donington’s failed acquisition of the rights and the hard bargain driven by F1-supremo Bernie Ecclestone.

However, after an on-going battle, the future of the British Grand Prix was secured with the Northampton circuit given a new 17-year contract – allowing owners to press ahead with track upgrades.

“For motor racing fans it’s very important to have a grand prix in your own country so there has been a big battle to fulfil the criteria for hosting a grand prix.” Hill told the BBC. “This has been the result of a very long, hard battle to upgrade the facilities and provide a venue that is the best venue for drivers and fans.”

“The important thing was to make it sustainable and realistic, and unfortunately the Donington project was unrealistic and wasn’t able to fulfil what was needed to be done.

“So we’re back here. We want to provide the very best, but it has to be sustainable.

“We’ve reconfigured the shape of the circuit – this is the first year of a two-year development place. For next year, there will be a completely different position for the start-finish line, so the pits and paddock will be in a completely different place.

“The centre of attention, the start and finish, will all be down the other end of the circuit. We hope it will provide much better viewing facilities, greater capacity and also more of a thrill and challenge for the drivers.”

Those attending the event included former Red Bull team-mates Mark Webber and David Coulthard.

The latter was the first man to test the circuit in F1 machinery and gave it a resounding thumbs up.

“It’s typical Silverstone,” Coulthard told Autosport.

“I’ve loved every Silverstone, even the fiddly complex, because it is as close as you get to an amphitheatre in British motorsport other than Brands Hatch. With all the grandstands and the BRDC centre, you got to show the crowd the cars for a while.

“It’s Silverstone, this is this place for the British Grand Prix, and as much as I enjoyed racing at Donington when I was younger, I just think we are so used to coming to this area and celebrating in July.”

The 2010 British Grand Prix weekend is scheduled to take place on the 9th to the 11th of July.